May 26, 2021
With so much work to be done in Utah civics education, it can be overwhelming for parents to know what to do.
As the state moves forward with civics education reforms, it’s important for parents to know what policies already exist so they can understand the current landscape and identify opportunities to participate in these policy discussions.
For example, did you know that Utah State Board of Education creates and routinely updates state academic standards in social studies? (See our recent series on state social studies standards here.)
Did you know that in 2004 the Utah Legislature passed character and civic education legislation that requires civics to be taught in Utah public school through an embedded curriculum? (See our recent piece on this Utah law here.)
Furthermore, have you heard of Utah’s Portrait of a Graduate created by the Utah State Board of Education in 2019? And did you know they have encouraged local districts and schools to create their own?
What is Utah’s Portrait of a Graduate?
Utah’s Portrait of a Graduate (also called the Utah Talent MAP for mastery, autonomy and purpose) lists aspirations for graduates of Utah public schools. And it turns out the overlap of this state project with civic education is quite significant.
Created by a task force made up of Utah State Board of Education and staff, the Portrait of a Graduate lists competencies that the task force believes should be mastered by the time Utah students graduate and enter their broader communities.
To be clear, these aspirations are different than state academic standards. The Portrait of a Graduate is less about specific academic subject areas and more about a holistic view of graduates, including the values and characteristics they ought to have developed. In fact, The Portrait of a Graduate does not require quantifying or measuring anything in a formalized way, but instead offers a model for other leaders to draw from in envisioning their own graduates.
Ultimately, the state task force identified 13 aspirations (also called competencies). The thirteen are: (1) Academic Mastery; (2) Wellness; (3) Civic, Financial and Economic Literacy; (4) Digital Literacy; (5) Communication; (6) Critical Thinking and Problem Solving; (7) Creativity and Innovation; (8) Collaboration and Teamwork; (9) Honesty, Integrity and Responsibility; (10) Hard Work and Resilience; (11) Lifelong Learning and Personal Growth; (12) Service; and (13) Respect.
If accomplished, these aspirations would likely produce civic-minded Utah graduates. Even aside from “Civic, Financial and Economic Literacy,” it’s apparent that the project envisions a graduate who has gained a set of values rather than just civics information.
For example, it includes “digital literacy,” a crucial skill for students accessing knowledge about the current events, social issues or politics in the world around them via social media and other media outlets.
Likewise, “critical thinking and problem solving” are at the heart of competing ideas and complicated issues that are generated in our public debates and within our civic institutions. Attributes like “collaboration,” “integrity,” “hard work” and “service” would equip students to make a difference to the communities in which they are engaged.
Does your school or district have a local Portrait of a Graduate?
The Utah State Board of Education has encouraged all schools and districts to create their own Portrait of a Graduate.
Juab School District, for instance, has its own. The district sought out the input of local stakeholders to create a locally designed version, which it uses as a strategic vision with its competency-based education model. Because it’s broader than just academic requirements, it has an entire section on “citizenship” and lists topics in the areas of civics, financial and economic literacy, and American government.
Has your school or district developed a local Portrait of a Graduate?
It might be helpful for parents to have a discussion with their school or district about how they envision graduates and recommend a vision that aligns with their own values as well.
This might include the ability to think for themselves when confronted with online misinformation or bias, the capability of wading through multiple perspectives to gain context on complex issues, the skill of being civil when disagreeing on an issue, how to get involved in civic institutions, or how to participate in family life.
Civics education reform is not going away anytime soon. Knowing which policies exist at the state and local levels, which ones are not yet being adequately implemented, and which ones have the potential to be created can help parents find their voice in these important discussions.
A recent news story pointed out that President Joe Biden has begun his administration with a strong record for getting new federal judges confirmed. Since taking office, he has managed to secure the confirmation of eight federal judges, more than any president since Richard Nixon.
With vision, leadership and sufficient efforts on the ground, we can muster the political will to plant “the Utah way” in the hearts and minds of future generations.
So if a destructive CRT ban is at best a partial policy solution – which may ultimately prove ineffective – what are the alternative (or perhaps additional) policy options that leaders should consider?